Bill Graham onstage before the final concert at Fillmore East. Fillmore East, New York, January 1, 1970.
Chromogenic print. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.
I never met Bill Graham (1931–1991), but I remember him. If you lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the ’60s and ’70s, you remember Bill. In the exploding rock & roll universe of that era, he loomed as large as anyone. Bill was no mere concert promoter; he was a visionary, a celebrity, a force of nature. His productions were not just music but a revolutionary form of theater and audience communion. Whatever the venue—the legendary Fillmore and Winterland ballrooms, Golden Gate Park, the Berkeley Community Theater, the Oakland Coliseum—if the marquee said Bill Graham Presents, you knew the music would be amazing. More than that: it would be an experience. It would be like…well… the Jimi Hendrix Experience, if you can imagine it. Earthshaking. Mesmerizing. Titanic. Unforgettable.
Bill Graham’s sons, Alex (far left) and David, joined us to celebrate the opening of the exhibition.
They are pictured here with their mothers, Marcia Godinez and Bonnie MacLean (far right).
Yet Bill wasn’t only about the music. He was about the message. He believed that music could be a force for social change, and he led the way to the mass phenomenon that came to be called the benefit concert. Bill had protean powers of energy, persuasion, and will. When it came to something he believed in, he could not be stopped. In 1985, President Reagan announced that he would visit the Bitburg Cemetery. When Bill learned that fifty Nazi SS officers were interred there, he launched a national campaign of protest. As a child he had barely escaped Nazi Europe; his mother and one of his sisters perished in the camps. Despite enormous pressure to cease and desist, Bill would not. Bill was not one to cease and desist. The president went ahead with the visit. But history will remember Bill’s courage and conviction.
Marvin Gaye billboard on the Sunset Strip, circa 1977. Photo by Robert Landau.
© Robert Landau/Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip/Angel City Press.
The Skirball’s upcoming exhibition Rock & Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip, opening March 24, highlights a unique era in rock & roll advertising when record companies took over the Sunset Strip with one-of-a-kind hand-painted billboards to promote their artists’ new albums. These rock advertising billboards, popular in the 1960s and 1970s, were elaborate works of art. They were also highly ephemeral, residing on Sunset Boulevard for just a month or two at a time before being dismantled and whitewashed in anticipation of the next record release. With the advent of MTV in the 1980s, billboard ads for music disappeared from the local landscape. Robert Landau’s photographs, featured in the exhibition, remain to document this brief moment when the biggest names in the music business—from Bowie to Bruce to the Beatles—clamored to be seen on billboards.
Of course, the music also remains. I revisited my days as a college radio DJ and made a mix that includes a few of the legendary musicians whose billboards appear in the exhibition—as covered by other musicians. Continue reading
Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.
The Skirball’s annual Hanukkah Family Festival approaches, and this year the festivities take inspiration from Latin American culture. Along with Mexican tin art painting, mariachi and Capoeira performances, and Latin American–influenced Hanukkah treats, don’t miss out on seeing Oaxaca’s Pasatono Orquesta.
Pasatono Orquesta has made a name for itself over the last fifteen years by reinterpreting traditional Mexican folk music. The group’s latest album, Maroma, pays tribute to the traveling circuses that were once popular throughout rural Mexico. These maroma, as they were called, consisted of a single clown tasked with juggling, telling jokes, reciting poetry, and performing acrobatics, drawing inspiration from a mixture of pre-Hispanic indigenous traditions, European street performances, and modern circus elements. Continue reading
Photo by Kenny McCracken.
Alice Russell’s most recent album, To Dust, is a collection of soulful torch songs about unwavering tenacity in the midst of spurned love. Her live shows are raw and gritty affairs—her vocal acrobatics flying effortlessly across funky grooves and R&B beats. In celebration of indie label Tru Thoughts Recordings’ fifteenth anniversary, Russell performs live at the Skirball on October 24, with openers Lost Midas and The Seshen. I asked Russell to share some thoughts about her music career, her songwriting process, and where in L.A. she’ll be visiting while she’s here.
It’s been ten years since you released your debut album, Under the Munka Moon. How has a decade affected your music?
Time has sprinted past. I have opened up over time. Over this decade I toured a lot, and that, bit by bit, forced me to really open up on stage and, in turn, in the studio. I have had the privilege to visit amazing places to perform and record, and these experiences can’t help but affect the music that I am now making. Continue reading
One of the best parts of my job is that I have the privilege of working closely with the musicians we present. When preparing for our concerts, I like to listen to each band and familiarize myself with the history of the music they play as a way of getting to know them before I work with them in person. This Thursday night at Sunset Concerts, I’m thrilled to meet with and see a performance by Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys, Louisiana’s Creole zydeco innovators. But before I get into Broussard’s indelible contributions to the Creole and zydeco traditions, let’s take a peek at the history of zydeco music and dance.
A Very Brief History of Zydeco
Zydeco music has its roots in the Creole tradition of rural Louisiana. After World War II, Creole musicians began incorporating elements of blues, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll that they heard on the radio and jukeboxes into Creole party music, which is referred to by some as “la-la.” Since that time, zydeco has continuously evolved and incorporated influences from myriad musical genres. Yet it maintains its character through instrumentation centered on the accordion and rubboard, the latter of which drives zydeco’s strong syncopated rhythms.
Zydeco’s specific rhythm lends itself to a traditional type of dance, also called zydeco. Reader, now is the time to put on those cowboy boots! Done in either a “closed position” (meaning you and your partner stay connected) or “club style” (done with an “open style” variety of lead-and-follow improvised variations), the music is counted in eights: slow/quick/quick, slow/quick/quick, with accompanying footwork: step pause/step/step. No matter which style of zydeco you prefer, it’s all about having a good time. And what better place to practice your newly honed zydeco skills than at this week’s concert? We’re even laying down a dance floor!
Check out this informative, easy-to-follow zydeco instructional video.
Jeffery Broussard, Innovator and Preserver of the Zydeco Tradition
Jeffery Broussard & The Creole Cowboys are one of very few bands who still play traditional Creole music and also seamlessly incorporate contemporary zydeco into their repertoire. Born into a zydeco legacy, Broussard is the youngest son (and one of ten other siblings… I can only imagine what the line for the bathroom was like in the Broussard household) of the renowned zydeco vocalist and accordionist Delton Broussard. At the tender age of eight, Jeffery began playing drums in his father’s band, the Lawtell Playboys.
Yiddish Tango Club bandleader Gustavo Bulgach communes with his clarinet.
The Tango Club is dimly lit, nostalgic, romantic, surreal, magical, erotic, chaotic, unpredictable. A refuge for the soul, a place for the timeless, a melting pot of dreams and reality. . .
Thus begins the description of the Yiddish Tango Club on their Facebook page. Performing at Sunset Concerts this Thursday night, they are a band that seeks to ensnare listeners’ senses with a blend of Jewish soul music and the Argentinian tango of bandleader Gustavo Bulgach’s home country. From what I have listened to online in anticipation of their concert, I believe they will follow through on that promise. The Yiddish Tango Club is a beautiful musical ideal in an age of globalization—an international group of leading artists that is constantly in flux. Bulgach has performed all over the world with varying band members, essentially creating a new tango club at each performance. The approach is so ingrained in their performances that the group has included it in its mission, which promises that at “every show the audience and musicians will co-construct and manifest a unique Tango Club.” Continue reading
It’s been a busy summer at the Skirball’s Sunset Concerts! As the Program department’s summer intern this year, it’s been a great experience to learn what it takes to put on one of these concerts each week. Now that I have four of them under my belt, I thought I’d share a little bit of what takes place in the hours before show time. Here’s a glimpse at what took place on August 7 as we prepared to present The Haden Triplets.
1:25 p.m.: I arrive at the Skirball later on concert days since we will be working late into the night. It is a sunny day with a light breeze and I chat with security staff about the perfect weather for tonight. We might even need to put sweaters on later!
1:30 p.m.: I have eight e-mails and a voicemail waiting for me. All except one are regarding last-minute updates to press parking or artist accommodations. I make all the necessary changes to our databases.
Flaco Jiménez and Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs play the Sunset Concerts stage this Thursday evening, August 14, at 8:00 p.m. KPFK DJ Betto Arcos spins starting at 7:00 p.m.
Mexican conjunto music is that rare hybrid that perfectly embodies the spirit of the Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—enduring musical traditions and cross-cultural exchange, with one foot in the past but an eye fixed toward the future. For legendary accordionist Flaco Jiménez and bajo sexto player Max Baca—who take the Sunset Concerts stage together this Thursday night—that music is in their blood.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Jiménez hails from a long line of conjunto musicians. His grandfather, Patricio Jiménez, played in dance halls with German and Polish immigrants who brought the polka and the button accordion to South Texas, and his father, Santiago Jiménez Sr., was instrumental in popularizing conjunto in the 1930s. While Flaco followed in his family’s footsteps, he also helped make conjunto relevant to new audiences in his own way—in addition to playing standards, he also played accordion with contemporary musicians like The Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, and Bob Dylan.
Flaco Jiménez performing a rendition of “La Bamba” with Ry Cooder
Max Baca was only seven years old when he met Flaco Jiménez, but by then he had already taken up the accordion and was performing with his own father, who was also an accordionist. It was Jiménez who inspired Baca to switch instruments and become the renowned bajo sexto player that he is today. Continue reading
The Haden Triplets will take the Sunset Concerts stage this Thursday night, August 7, at 8:00 p.m. Come early and hear DJ Robert Mora do a set starting at 7:00 p.m.. Photo by Jo McCaughey.
I was really excited when I first heard that The Haden Triplets were going to perform at this year’s Sunset Concerts. These three talented women—Tanya Haden, Rachel Haden, and Petra Haden—have a tremendous artistic range and have done so many unique, eclectic, high-quality projects, on their own and collectively. From collaborations with Beck, Weezer, the Silversun Pickups, and Bette Midler, to touring with Todd Rundgren, to creating an a capella version of The Who’s classic album The Who Sells Out, to their latest project performing their own gorgeous interpretations of classic American country and folk songs—there is nothing these sisters can’t do!
Check out the Haden Triplets performing a recent NPR Tiny Desk concert. Careful! You may end up playing this on repeat, as I have been doing.
I particularly appreciate that they choose to make music as a family and that they are carrying on their family’s rich tradition of music. The Haden Triplets, along with their brother, Josh, of the band Spain, are following in the footsteps of their father, the late legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden, as well as those of their grandparents who performed as The Haden Family when Charlie was a child. Together they are not only preserving an important musical history but also making this music accessible to a new generation. Continue reading
I visited Cuba in December 2011 to attend a major international jazz festival. It was a great chance to view the Havana beaches and cityscape, including the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (pictured above right). Photos by Jordan Peimer.
When I think of Cuban music, I think of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Its grand ballroom has hosted all the greats—from Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas, founded by renowned bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez (1911–1970), to, more recently, members of the Buena Vista Social Club. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel was the center of Havana’s rhythmic culture, a place of glamour where residents and vacationers alike could rub elbows with celebrities, gangsters, and politicians and dance the son. [Incidentally, a large influx of American Jews traveled to Cuba specifically to explore the Latin sounds that had provided the soundtrack to the Borscht Belt’s nightly dance parties. There, in the Catskill Mountains, Latin music had been entertaining Jewish audiences for decades.]
You’ll definitely get on your feet and dance when you hear Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas this week at Sunset Concerts. Here’s a clip of the band performing at Lincoln Center in New York this year.
This Thursday night at Sunset Concerts, Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas perform in the ensemble’s Los Angeles debut, bringing more than seven decades of history as icons of Cuban son. In recognition of how much Angelenos love Latin dancing, the Skirball will be removing many rows of seats and installing a dance floor for the show. We invite you to bring your dancing shoes and dance the night away—just like you would have in 1940s Cuba at the Hotel Nacional! Continue reading